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ARS Home » Midwest Area » West Lafayette, Indiana » Livestock Behavior Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #204310

Title: Thoughts on farm animal welfare

item ALGER, B
item BOYLE, L
item BROOM, D
item Lay Jr, Donald
item Marchant-Forde, Jeremy
item Marchant-Forde, Ruth
item LI, Y
item PAJOR, E

Submitted to: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association
Publication Type: Other
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/7/2007
Publication Date: 1/15/2007
Citation: Alger, B., Lundeheim, N., Boyle, L.A., Broom, D.M., Eliasson-Selling, L., Holmgren, N., Mattson, B., Grandin, T., Halverson, M., Lay Jr, D.C., Marchant Forde, J.N., Marchant Forde, R., Li, Y., Pajor, E.A., Stookey, J.M., Zanella, A.J. 2007. Thoughts on farm animal welfare. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 230:185-186.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Gestating sow welfare remains a complex and contentious issue in the US, and stakeholders keep calling for objective, scientific welfare assessments. The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association recently published a Commentary that attempted to compare sow welfare in "the Swedish deep-bedded system" and the US gestation crate, which may promote misconceptions. Importantly, it was based on the non-scientific assessment of 100 sows made on a short visit to one "sow pool" farm. Sow pools comprise about 30% of Swedish pig production and have challenging issues regarding transportation, mixing and nutrition. Sow pools may incorporate deep-bedding, but they remain a minority system and should not be labeled "the" Swedish deep-bedded system. Farm comparisons are always dangerous because of confounding factors impacting the results, but in terms of productivity, the Swedish deep-bedded system performs well compared to current US systems. Nearly 100% of Swedish sows are deep-bedded during mating and most during gestation. Swedish pig production is also maintained without regular antibiotic use. In the US, sow longevity is a major issue, especially in confinement systems. The average removal age of sows in US production is 3.4 parities. The average removal age of sows in Sweden is 4.4 parities, indicating longevity advantages. We agree that the wound rates observed are unacceptable but they are based on observations of 7% of the sows on the farm visited. Such rates are not typical for the traditional deep-bedded system where, unlike sow pools, mixing of sows is minimal. Sows in deep-bedded systems are not under thermal stress during cold winters. The ambient temperature outside is related to temperature inside, but at pig level, deep straw, a composting bed (up to 116 degrees F at 6" depth for feeder pigs) and the ability to huddle results in a microclimate that is wholly acceptable and, importantly, gives the sow thermal choice. Deep bedded systems work in winter in Minnesota and Iowa. Behavioral indicators of poor welfare such as belly-nosing and navel sucking are performed more by early-weaned pigs in barren environments than by later-weaned pigs kept on straw as in the Swedish system. Also, stereotypic sow behaviors are more prevalent in barren environments than enriched environments and it is these behaviors, rather than generic Oral-Nasal-Facial (ONF) behaviors, which are important when assessing welfare. Sows in deep bedded systems show high levels of ONF behaviors, but low levels of stereotypies relative to sows in gestation crates - a very important distinction. In conclusion, the Commentary contained misinformation as to the relative welfare of sows in the typical Swedish deep-bedded system and US gestation crates. It is important for US swine producers and veterinarians to be properly informed of housing and welfare developments elsewhere, as the market for their product becomes increasingly global. We encourage objective, informed debate and continued multidisciplinary research on gestating sow welfare as we work to address concerns of all stakeholders from producers to consumers.